4 NYC Engineering Managers Share Their Secrets to Retaining Talent

On these teams, engineers have the opportunity to learn, grow and contribute their voices. Here’s what their managers are doing to continue investing in them.
Written by Kim Conway
September 27, 2022Updated: September 27, 2022

“Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” 

This well-known business leadership quote is top of mind for John Mann, the VP of engineering at Obsess. “There is no magic in keeping employees,” he said, noting that he focuses on learning and development opportunities to aid in retention. “It is important for a manager to listen to their employees on the areas they want to learn.” 

As turnover rates threaten the stability of engineering teams, managers from across New York City, like Mann, are reflecting on what their team members need to align their career paths with the team’s growth path. For some, building the right culture — one in which all voices will be heard — is a priority. For others, it’s about providing open acknowledgement, like work-life balance support, that every employee is a person outside of work, too. 

For Mann, it’s about development. He knows that engineers love to learn and experiment with technology, which is why he invests in his team members’ growth, providing them both the time and the opportunity to further explore new or unfamiliar tools that will drive their careers forward. Because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for retaining engineering talent, investing in their professional development is one way to express that they bring unmatched value to the team. 

Built In NYC sat down with Mann, along with leaders from Conductor, Block Renovation and Mantra Health, to learn what makes their engineering organizations so valuable and how they’re raising the leadership bar to stay in tune with their employees, encouraging them with actionable reasons to stay and grow alongside their teams.

 

Alok Srivastava
Chief Technology Officer • Conductor

 

Conductor is a content and search optimization platform for marketers.

 

Describe Conductor’s value proposition to engineers. 

Conductor is a people- and customer-first company. Here, everyone’s voice is heard and valued. Engineering is home to passionate technology leaders who keep the team engaged and constantly strive to raise the bar. We have built a highly collaborative culture of technical excellence with tremendous opportunity to impact the lives of our employees, customers and community while also driving the company’s success. 

Our industry-leading SaaS product is at the core of our company strategy. We are working toward becoming a product-led company and building one holistic platform that harnesses the power of data to engage customers and drive growth.

We uphold our shared engineering values — the beliefs that guide the day-to-day behavior of individuals and teams while making decisions, especially those where difficult tradeoffs are involved. We cherish our diversity and motivate each other to attain ambitious goals and celebrate each other’s successes. Leveraging technology, frameworks and languages, we solve challenging problems in massive-scale distributed systems, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. We are driven by metrics and use automated agile processes with advanced continuous integration and delivery pipelines.

Employees who relate to the company’s mission and believe in the vision develop a stronger sense of belonging, which leads to higher retention.”

 

As a manager, how do you keep a pulse on your team members’ job satisfaction?

Conductor’s company culture is built on a foundation of transparency and trust. We have not one but two missions and believe that a great company has a positive impact on both the world and the people who build it. 

Our internal mission is to transform the workplace into a force that helps people grow. We do this by actively soliciting feedback and investing in the learning and development of all Conductors. Individuals and teams are empowered to drive key decisions that directly impact company goals. We proactively share results from regular pulse surveys and create actionable initiatives to address areas of opportunity. In engineering, employee engagement and satisfaction are key metrics used to measure the health of the organization. Our people team helps facilitate learning and development opportunities so engineers can upskill and cross-skill themselves. 

Conductor has worked hard over the past 3 years to adapt to changing work environments and cultivate an in-office and remote culture that facilitates collaboration and growth. The engineering department is remote-first and fosters a strong culture of collaboration through processes and tools that enable team productivity.

 

What have you learned about employee retention in your time as a manager at Conductor? 

It is very important to create an environment of transparency, accountability and trust. Employees who relate to the company’s mission and believe in the vision develop a stronger sense of belonging, which leads to higher retention.

From the results of employee engagement surveys and exit interviews with departing employees, we have learned that the following factors influence employee retention: clarity and strength of the company’s vision, objectives and strategy; confidence in the executives and managers; clarity in growth paths and career development; opportunities to work on challenging problems using state of the art technology; focus on prioritizing and addressing technical debt; flexibility that accommodates work-life balance, whether hybrid or remote; and competitive compensation and benefits.

 

 

Sunil Bhalla
Senior Engineering Manager • Block Renovation

 

Block Renovation’s platform helps streamline the renovation process for homeowners and their contractors.

 

Describe Block Renovation’s value proposition to engineers.

We raised our Series C, so we’ve fully initiated growth mode and started expanding nationally. But all things considered, we’re still early in our journey to reinvent the home renovation industry. Engineers have the opportunity to make a substantial impact at Block by joining at this pivotal moment.

We have a very exciting tech North Star for our platform, and we have many challenging and interesting projects on our roadmap. For example, we’re looking toward ways to incorporate augmented reality into the homeowner’s mobile journey. We’re also considering how our teams can use sentiment analysis to continually improve the user’s experience.

We’re a remote-friendly team — our engineers are from Poland, Canada and all over the United States — but we also value the importance of getting together and collaborating in person. This fall, our engineers will come from all over to get together for a week. I’ve seen the team double in size over the past year, and I’m so proud of the culture we’ve built and are continuing to build moving forward.

 

As a manager, how do you keep a pulse on your team members’ job satisfaction?

Building trust with your team members is critical. Trust not only allows both parties to be able to openly give and receive feedback but also empowers employees to make decisions and take ownership and initiative.

Effective one-on-ones are hands down the best tool to understand how your team members are doing and gauge their satisfaction. I like to pay attention to the direction and velocity of the team — as well as how satisfied the team members are — as these can be key indicators of underlying issues.

Prioritizing a good work-life balance and acknowledging the human element of the team goes a long way in building that trust, while also ensuring high productivity and job satisfaction. Lastly, it’s important for the team to know the “why” behind the “what.” If it is clear how their work contributes to business success, they are more likely to be engaged and driven to finish their initiatives.

It’s important for the team to know the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ If it is clear how their work contributes to business success, they are more likely to be engaged and driven to finish their initiatives.”

 

What have you learned about employee retention in your time as a manager at Block Renovation? 

What I’ve learned from a few years of leading engineering teams — and having been an individual contributor myself — is that engineers love to solve problems. It’s essential for managers to focus on what needs to be done and then trust the team to figure out how they will do that. I like to push my team to take risks and give them the confidence that it is OK to fail as long as we can take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes. This allows the team to focus on their goals and stay motivated.

Making sure everyone feels that their work is compelling and exciting is also critical. That’s why we work diligently to develop roadmaps for each of our squads. We calibrate the squad’s mission in order to avoid having an “A team” and a “B team,” since that kind of hierarchization isn’t very encouraging.

 

 

Obsess team members workin gin the office
Obsess

 

John Mann
VP of Engineering • Obsess

 

Obsess is an interactive, virtual reality retail platform.

 

Describe Obsess’s value proposition to engineers. 

At Obsess, we enable brands and retailers to serve highly interactive, visual and branded virtual stores on their websites — no app download or headset needed. Utilizing proprietary patented technology, the Obsess platform creates high-definition, beautiful, photorealistic and 3D 360-degree experiences that increase awareness, engagement and conversion.

We are working on technologies with ongoing development for Oculus, Roblox, Three.js and more. We are a scrappy team of developers that allows for learning experiences in various areas including Amazon Web Services, Flask, Python and several automation processes that always improve our delivery time. I am often impressed by the creative solutions my team comes up with for challenges we face. Giving them the opportunity to contribute directly to the client is rewarding for everyone.

 

As a manager, how do you keep a pulse on your team members’ job satisfaction?

I focus on keeping up with biweekly one-on-ones and value the time I spend meeting with my team. It is critical to take the time to listen and see how you can help your team members succeed and grow in their careers. We use Lattice to help keep with biweekly surveys, one-on-one notes and annual reviews. It has great features that allow team members to provide sentiment feedback in a simple and effective way.

It is also helpful to sit with the team as much as possible. This allows me to break down the walls that are often created by titles and private offices. It is important to reach out to my team members to learn about them and their career interests, not just their contributions to the product.

It is important to reach out to my team members to learn about them and their career interests, not just their contributions to the product.”

 

What have you learned about employee retention in your time as a manager at Obsess?

At Obsess, employee retention is critical for business continuity and product improvements. There is no magic in keeping employees. You might have heard the phrase, “Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” It is important for a manager to listen to their employees on the areas they want to learn about or are not happy with, and, most importantly, the feedback they’re giving directly to their manager. 

Most engineers love coding and learning new technologies, and it is important that they are given the opportunity to explore that. Here at Obsess, we have a variety of technologies that every engineer can learn. For example, front-end engineers can learn about application programming interface development and MongoDB, while back-end engineers can learn about Bootstrap and SASS. Both front- and back-end engineers can learn about AWS DevOps, monitoring, S3 buckets and more. Creating those opportunities — and more importantly, giving them the time to learn them — provides engineers with career growth and a rewarding environment where they love to work. 

 

 

Hunter Davis
VP of Engineering • Mantra Health

 

Mantra Health is a digital mental healthcare clinic for young adults and university students.

 

Describe Mantra Health’s value proposition to engineers. 

We’re very open about our priorities and culture with prospective engineers, and we have a clear hierarchy of importance for our hiring criteria.

First, we discover: Are you kind? Do you have a desire to help others and live into our mission?

Second: Do you have Javascript expertise? Our stack is Javascript top to bottom (from node to react), and strong experience in these frameworks and the Javascript ecosystem is an accelerator.

Finally: Do you wish to be a mentor or teacher? Do you have a growth mindset? This speaks to our core mission and the students that we support every day.

Our codebase and tech stack are well architected and fundamentally easy to pick up and work with. Our stack — Typescript, GraphQL and Postgres — includes minimal state management, terse code and well-functioning decorators.

On top of that, all our full-time employees enjoy a slew of benefits designed to support them both at work and beyond. These include company equity, work flexibility in terms of both schedule and location, unlimited PTO, inclusive parental leave, medical and mental health benefits and more.

 

As a manager, how do you keep a pulse on your team members’ job satisfaction?

In day-to-day conversations we prioritize transparency, emotional intelligence and attention to stress levels and workloads. In doing so, we are continuously building a culture of mutual support as a team and helping each other to live into our core values every day.

How you treat departing team members is just as important as how you treat those on the team currently, and those that will join in the future.”

 

What have you learned about employee retention in your time as a manager at Mantra Health?

My time here at Mantra has reinforced the idea that how you treat departing team members is just as important as how you treat those on the team currently, and those that will join in the future. Attrition is natural, and the arc of a career is complex. Supporting those on your team that choose to follow their dreams and continue their career arcs outside of your organization only serves to reinforce a teaching and learning culture. Being able to openly and honestly share this with incoming personnel continues to reinforce this positivity and transparency in our culture.

 

 

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